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Assess the Significance of Developments in Policing Essay

There were many significant developments in policing which aided the effectiveness of law enforcement in Britain from the period of 1830 to 1965. Reasons as to why developments were necessary in this period; firstly between the years 1829 – 1850 there was a steady increase in crime[1]. Secondly as time progressed criminals came up with ways to beat the policing system, therefore it was necessary for policing in Britain to develop, in order to keep on top of crime. Development factors such as; the establishment of the Metropolitan Police Force, passing of key legislation were key developments in policing which influenced law and order. Other developments such as the reformation of prisons and developments in technology, coupled with roles of individuals such as; Elizabeth Fry and high profile cases like that of Oscar Wilde, also contributed to the effectiveness of law enforcement in the 19th and 20th century.

The first significant development in British policing, which notably advocated effective law enforcement was the establishment of the Metropolitan Police Force in 1830. This was a significantly fundamental advancement in law enforcement as it was the first time in British history that an organised policing force was introduced and it updated the predated system of watchmen and bow street runners. However, the force was met with varying attitudes from the public, much of which was sensationalised by the media[2]. Other major Acts were implemented to support the Metropolitan police, especially forces outside of London, for example; the Municipal Corporations Act 1835. This was a significant development as it nationalised the police force therefore allowing effective law enforcement to take place throughout the country, unlike before where it was restricted to London[3]. However the effectiveness of these developments can be questioned, as police officers were often criticised for being drunks and bullies[4], therefore they were mistrusted by the general public.

There were further attempts to nationalise the police force, such as the Rural Constabulary Act 1839. This was a significant development in law enforcement as the legislation focused nationalising policing in rural areas. On the other hand, the enforcement of the Act was optional[5] thus limiting its effectiveness, as many boroughs were apprehensive of its creation. Nevertheless further legislation was pioneered in the form of the County and Borough Police Act of 1856, which saw every county having to acquire a professional police force[6]. The government encouraged the development and gave incentives such as; paying for clothing and wage to efficient police forces[7]. Officers therefore, would have felt a sense of duty to their jobs accurately as they had respectable positions.

Additional legislation allowed the policing forces of Britain to develop into further branches, such as the establishment of the C.I.D in 1877 which investigated homicides. This development was pivotal as it loosened pressure on the Metropolitan police force and allowed a select force to focus on a case. However, the birth of the C.I.D incurred with the Turf Fraud Scandal, thus leaving the public suspicious and distrustful of the establishment. The C.I.D’s first major test came in the form of the Jack the Ripper Case in 1888[8], which instilled fear throughout the nation. Conversely the case was significant in another light, as police performance was repeatedly criticised for its incapability and slow work.

Other cases such as The Arrest of Scotland Yard[9], did not help the detective forces as they were again shown as an inefficient and corruptive detectives. The development of the C.I.D also brought about the development of the Special Irish Branch in 1884, both which showed their significance as they foiled the assassination attempt of Queen Victoria at her Golden Jubilee in 1887[10]. This was a significant case as it showed the public that both, the C.I.D and the Special Branch were effective developments of law and order as cooperative work between forces ensured the protection of the Queen and thus the nation.

It is apparent that other factors contributed in influencing effective law and order and not only developments in policing, for instance the reformation of prisons. Prisons in the 18th century have been criticised for their poor sanitation, poor food and living conditions. It was remarked that felons in Britain lived “worse than dogs or swine”[11]. Humanitarian Elizabeth Fry campaigned for the separation of women and children from male prisoners, especially after she witnessed the appalling conditions in prisons[12]. Her work was promoted throughout the House of Commons and with the support of Sir Robert Peel; they introduced a series of prison reform including the Gaols Act 1823. This showed the strong public opinion on issues regarding law and order, especially as intervention of influential individuals was evident.

By 1840 the government had recognised that prisons needed to be modernised, such as the Pentonville prison in 1842. Developments such as these meant that wardens could control prisons better and new regimes could be exercised, such as the separate system, where inmates were kept in solitary confinement from the beginning of their sentence. This development aided effective law and order as there were reported cases of reformed criminals, however the system sent many insane or led them to suicide, questioning the regime and the governments handling on the treatment of criminals. Furthermore, prisons had been nationalised in 1877[13], this coupled with the harsh regimes led to a steady fall in crime[14], proving the effectiveness of this development on law and order. Further legislation such as the Prison Act 1898, reasserted the idea of reformation as the main role in prison regimes. This led to a dilution of the separate system, the abolition of hard labour, and established the idea that prison labour should be productive.

The argument of the reformation of prisons brought attention to young offenders. Transportation itself had ended in 1852, as reformists viewed it as a lenient punishment, however under the Reformation School Acts (1854); courts were allowed to send children for transportation[15] setting double standards within society, whilst historians argue that there were little, if any boundaries between children and adults[16]. The Children’s Act of 1908, established juvenile courts[17] and also banned prison sentences to those less than 14 years of age.

This was significant in influencing effective law enforcement, as children were seen with sympathy and compassion. The legislation also showed that boundaries were being set for adults and children. During this period there was a general feeling that children were committing crime due to inadequate discipline and education at home, thus the Borstal System was introduced[18]. The main elements in the borstal programs included; education, regular work, vocational training, and group counselling, however the Borstal System proved to be ineffective as 75% of inmates still re-offended[19] .

Further developments came into fruition in the form of technology, which greatly influenced effective law and order. It has been argued that were being increasingly caught[20], for instance, advancements through the development of finger printing in 1901[21]. The development aimed to prevent criminals from concealing previous convictions. This development contributed to effective law and order as a database of criminals was created which the police could use as a reference for repeat offenders.

Other tools which helped the police force included Radio telegraphy and the use of the 999 system in 1910. These developments influenced effective law and order as the police was able to communicate better with not only one another, but also with those in need of help. However the effect of the modernisation of the police force meant that there was increasing reliance on electronical and technological methods, thus alienating the average police man from his community[22].

It can be argued that the use of media had also affected the influence the effectiveness of law and order as public opinion had been influenced through the use of various Medias. The Oscar Wilde Case of 1895[23], exemplified how societies stereotypical immoralities i.e. homosexuality, could be used against someone in a court of law and order and convict them as a criminal. Other cases, for instance the Derek Bentley Case of 1952[24], showed further miscarriage of justice, as the wrong person was hung. This case was significant in influencing law and order as the media attention helped increase societies widespread doubt in the justice system. An added incentive that motivated the public’s change of attitude towards capital punishment and the miscarriage of justice was the Ruth Ellis Case of 1955[25].

It was evident from this case, that Ellis was did not receive the correct legal representation in court and the case was not thoroughly investigated. It was found out after the trial; Ellis was a victim of domestic violence, which could have been the cause for her crime of passion. These high profile cases strengthened the public’s resolve on the issue of the barbarity of capital punishment and the ever present fact that there was no reprieve for those who were convicted and hung. This led to the profoundly significant changes in legislation which influenced effective law and order; the Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Act of 1965[26]. This was paramount in policing legislation as the death penalty was abolished. The abolition was a significant change in the 20th century as capital punishment was seen with much aversion both from the public and judges alike, who were especially reluctant to hand out death penalties.

In conclusion developments within policing which significantly influenced effective law and order in the period 1830-1965 were vast and all had varying impact on society. Legislation such as the Municipal Corporations Act of 1835 and the Rural Constabulary Act of 1839, ensured society was protected by an organised, efficient national police force. However officers were distrusted by the general public, therefore they had many hurdles to face before having a significant impact on society.

However one cannot base the effectiveness of law and order within this period solely on developments in policing, as there were other contributory factors. For example; reformation of prisons through work of individuals such as Elizabeth Fry, the establishment of the C.I.D, technological developments such as finger printing and DNA sampling and high profile cases like that of Oscar Wilde. These developments greatly advanced effective law and order, as one can base the suggestion of decreasing crime rate during 1830-1965[27] on these as well as the developments in policing.



Trend of Crime 1750 – 1900 – Ian Dawson

Crime and Punishment: A Study Across Time – Roger Whiting 1968

D.Taylor. ‘Crime, Policing, Punishment in England 1750-1914’

The Victorian Underworld, Donald Thomas 1998

Police and Prisons – P. F. Speed 1970

Crime and Punishment through time, John Murray

History of Police in England and Wales – T. Crithchley 1978















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